After My Divorce, A New Beginning
I was a different person once, many moons ago. A musician, a teacher, deeply stuck in a toxic relationship with the father of my children. He decided that we were secular; that there was no place in his house for Shabbos; no room in his house for separate dishes for meat and milk. He laughed at me when I would daven in my fruitless attempts to find solace in G-d. When we moved to a new place with a small and unattractive synagogue, I was certain my religious aspirations had come to an end for good.
Now anyone who knows me today, would not think of me being quiet and submissive. And I wasn’t. I was just tired, so tired of having to fight over every little thing. So tired. Tired of having to raise my voice or become defiant over trivialities. Tired of constant criticism for laughing too loud or talking too little. Tired of being told I was too ambitious or didn’t make enough money or made more money than he did. Tired of hearing that I weighed too much or too little, that I was wearing the wrong clothes, styling my hair the wrong way, that all of these were sure signs of immaturity, that he knew better and that he knew best.
I cried quietly. Silent tears of disappointment, of regret over the life I wanted but knew I could not have with this man. Some days, I sought comfort in daydreams of a happy life, with a husband who would return home from shul and greet our children and me with a kiss on the forehead before we would all sit down for our festive Friday night meal. I gave away my daughters’ baby furniture, saying goodbye to any wish for more children. Yes, I wanted more children, but not like this — not in a home where we walked on eggshells trying not to break the fragile status quo of a silence that could last for days. That day when the cute young mother came by to pick up the soft yellow baby bed and matching changing table — the one I had chosen long ago with so much love and anticipation — I cried from morning until late into the night over the loss of so many hopes and dreams.
When I finally voiced my wish to leave, he didn’t take it very well. He threatened me, tried to take the children away from me. He accused me of overspending on clothes and toys for the kids, a complaint that somehow turned into a list of the ways I had been, and still was, neglecting the kids. He refused to leave our house so I found an apartment for me and my two young daughters. We made a game of having nothing, sleeping on mattresses and enjoying “picnics” on a blanket until we could scrounge up chairs, tables, beds. When I would drop the kids off to see him, I made sure we met at a different place each time and that I was not being followed on the way back to my new apartment. I worried about him finding us; I would get up in the middle of the night to double check that all the doors and windows were securely locked. Events like these mess with your mind. Somehow, while my life was turning upside down and my marriage ending, I felt simultaneously focused and out of touch with reality.
I changed everything I knew over the course of four months: I left my husband, moved to a new apartment in a new town, and got a new job. In four months, I changed everything and rebuilt anew. Maybe we do not know how strong we are until we are pushed to the absolute limits of what our hearts can bear. I was a different person once, many moons ago. A musician, a teacher, deeply stuck in a toxic relationship with the father of my children. I am where I am today despite — and perhaps, because of — hardships I have endured, challenges I wouldn’t wish upon anyone.
I am no longer able to play the instrument I played while I was married; today, I find my creative outlet in dying scarves, heartfelt creations upon which I have built a business. I can’t teach guitar anymore the way I used to while I was still married; today, I teach eco-print and natural colors workshops. I no longer pray in silence, the way I used to while I was still married; today, I have unabashedly brought Hashem into my life. The joy that defines so many aspects of my life — personal, business, creative, spiritual — grew from pain. The success I have found comes on the heels of the lowest of lows and searing self-doubt.
Today, I laugh and I love life; I have cried enough. My relationship with the love of my life came after being broken to the bare threads of my soul. My love of Hashem grew from despair, from having only Him to rely on when all else was crumbling apart. Hashem has a place in my new home. My daydreams of long ago come true each Friday night when my husband returns home from shul and greets me and our children with a kiss on the forehead before we all sit down for our festive Friday night meal. Together, we say grace after meals and my husband says Shema Yisrael with our beautiful son before tucking him in at night.
I say: Thank You, thank You, thank You Hashem, for all your infinite wisdom and for never giving up on this wandering soul. Thank you for showing me the light through all the fog and for allowing me to dream. Thank you for making my dreams come true. Thank you for new beginnings.
Shira Lankin Sheps graduated from Hunter College School of Social Work with an MSW in clinical social work. After working in the clinical field, marketing and photojournalism, she decided to start The Layers Project to help break down stigma and promote healing within our Jewish community. She feels strongly about presenting women, who are so often shown as shallow characters or fully removed from Jewish media spaces, as three-dimensional individuals whose lives are full and rich with resilience. Shira is the founder, Publisher and CEO of The Layers Project Magazine.